The hands and feet: Teens from seven states serve Winchester during work camp

Published 1:30 pm Friday, July 28, 2023

While the sweltering heat of July might have forced some to stay indoors, it didn’t deter the spirits of those in Winchester who came from several states.

Through Group Mission Trips, the 2023 Summer Work Camp came to Winchester from the week of July 17 through 21, with the word of God being shared and fellowship being served to citizens throughout the community.

“We estimate that this week we will have put in about 4600 man-hours of work in the community,” said Herb Schoenberg, director for Group Mission Trips. “That’s pretty cool. We’re proud of that.”

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Organized with assistance from Winchester City Commissioner and co-sponsor Shannon Cox, the 2023 Summer Work Camp featured middle and high school students from 12 churches across seven states – three from Minnesota – and a host of volunteers.

Among the volunteers was Travis Welte of Port Townsend, Washington,

Along with his daughter, Ella, Welte made the approximate 2,700-mile drive to Winchester.

Welte was asked what his most significant motivator was.

“The kids,” Wete responded. “I always find that one kid when they start the week where you see that they’re just by themselves and just shy. By Friday, they just can’t get enough of it. They don’t want to leave.”

Before summer work camp begins, dozens from the community apply to see if they can have work completed at their home.

If chosen, they will have crews – typically of about six people – show up to perform work throughout the week.

The work and repairs at home can consist of painting, lawn care, installing wheelchair ramps and more.

“We got here on Monday, and [Group Mission Trips] tasked us with resurfacing the deck and putting new steps on the front porch,” said Dave Beattie, a youth group leader of First Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan.

“It’s fun to see them get to try new things and use tools that they wouldn’t if they were just staying at home”, added Jessi Fisher, a volunteer teacher at Cross Lutheran Church and School in Yorkville, Illinois.

Michelle Castellani was one of many Winchester residents to benefit directly from the services of campers.

“Two crews came on Monday and helped fix some things that were needed to be done things that I absolutely would not have been able to afford,” Castellani said. “These are things that I would love to have fixed for my children.”

Cox estimates that over $20,000 worth of materials – including lumber – were delivered to each site.

Much of the work was completed efficiently enough to garner more work than expected.

“We had groups that finished two days early, so we found other jobs for them to do in the community,” said Cox. “We started calling around and calling people that were on our standby list and saying ‘we didn’t think we’d get to you [but] we will be there tomorrow.’”

While adult leaders and volunteers enjoyed their experience, and those receiving home repairs were appreciative, they were far from the only ones.

“I can’t wait to go back [home] and tell everybody,” said youth Deborah Knapp of Hope Fellowship Church in Houghton, Michigan. “I just really want to help and serve and give hope like we’re talking about…I want to give hope to people who wouldn’t have hope otherwise.”

Of course, while work camp may be the biggest highlight, it was far from the only reason for attendance.

Along with daily devotionals, campers joined in fellowship by hearing different Bible verses – such as John 4:39 – each night in the gymnasium of Robert D. Campbell Junior High School.

They sang various songs, including “Graves Into Gardens” by Brandon Lake and Elevation Worship and “I Thank God” by Maverick City Music and Upperroom.

God sightings, in which campers and others spoke about how they saw God’s work in the community, were also brought up each night.

Last Wednesday, a special guest even arrived.

Nick Mingione, the head coach of the University of Kentucky baseball team, spoke.

“My faith is the most important thing to me. Everything else is second,” Mingione said. “What I want to do for you guys [is] I want to challenge you. I think some of the best coaches and the best people in my life have challenged me.”

In so doing, Mingione challenged each camper to pray daily, study and memorize God’s word, and more.

Last Friday, the last evening service, emcee Kathy Weaver – the youth director at First Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan – gave students a lasting message in which she touched on an overall event theme.

“As you prepare to head out tomorrow, we’re going to talk about forging ahead,” Weaver said. “As you forge ahead and you leave this place, we have some prayers.”

These included prayers for the youth to be prepared and ready to persevere over potentially difficult situations, know that God will work alongside them, feel confident in the strength of their character, use life stories in a beneficial way to help others, and more.

Though work camp may have ended for 2023, it shows no signs of slowing down.

“If I could well up and bust with pride, I would,” Cox said. “[In] fifty weeks, we’re doing it again!”